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President's Column

Defending Our System, One Client at a Time

April 2010

President's Column
Patricia M. Hynes

Patricia M. HynesWhat would John Adams make of our discourse today?  Adams famously wrote in his diary about a case he handled as a defense lawyer. He called it “one of the most gallant, generous and disinterested Actions of my whole Life, and one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my country.” His clients? British soldiers allegedly implicated in the Boston Massacre, clients about as sympathetic as alleged terrorists today.

You are likely aware of the recent attempt by some to impugn the loyalty, patriotism, and professional integrity of Department of Justice lawyers who, while in private practice, represented Guantanamo detainees or filed amicus briefs in their support.

The attacks on these lawyers are shameful not because they are attacks on these particular individuals but because they are attacks on our system of justice, displaying utter contempt for our nation’s most fundamental values and traditions, for our Constitution, and on the rule of law itself.

It is fundamental to our system of justice that all persons, no matter how unpopular, have a right to representation by counsel, and that lawyers have a duty to provide such representation, and to do so pro bono when necessary. Only in such a system can your rights, my rights, all our rights be assured. “Alleged” is one of the most important words in the English language; lost in these attacks is the fact that most of those detained at Guantanamo have been released without any finding of their culpability.

The Attorney General has represented that these DOJ lawyers will recuse themselves in any individual case where they in fact have a conflict of interest, and that should be the end of it. These lawyers lived up to the highest standards of the Bar and of our nation's most cherished principles when they undertook these representations under the most difficult circumstances, at great personal sacrifice, and in fulfillment of their professional duties. 

We as lawyers should not be deterred from representing unpopular people and causes. Our democratic system and our liberty depend on that basic principle.